July 9, 2011 13 Comments
Last night I called TIC: Part 1 the best indie game I played thus far and said it “made all other indie games look bad by comparison.” Well, that sure makes this next review quite awkward.
LaserCat is a Metroidvania-style platformer. You play as a glowing cat who’s BFF owl gets kidnapped by an evil space frog and now you have to save her. This stuff is every bit as insane as TIC, but here it’s all campy and retro and thus charming in a different way and ending any remaining similarities these two had. Excluding my undying love for both, of course.
The object is to navigate a 225 room maze and locate 30 hidden keys. Once you do, you have to find the room that contains your owl friend’s cell, at which point, spoiler alert, you have one last section where you must run to avoid various traps and the space frog’s bullets before finally saving your friend. The whole experience should take about two to three hours to score a 100% completion. There are no bonus challenges or extra quests, and who needs them anyway?
Oddly enough, for a game called LaserCat at least, there’s no fire button or shooting to be done. You can’t defeat the enemies, just avoid them. I know the average gamer these days goes into a coma if the screen isn’t being spammed with bullets or having stuff get blown up, but here it works flawlessly and even creates a real sense of tension. Once you retrieve a key, you have to return it to one of the many checkpoints scattered throughout the maze. If you die, you lose the key. You can hold as many keys at a time as you want, but if you die before you reach a checkpoint, you have to go back and get them. It makes rooms that seemed so easy to clear before feel much more menacing, because if you die this time there’s a consequence to it.
I don’t mean to imply that LaserCat is difficult, because it’s not. I breezed through the game in two hours thanks to the ability to warp from checkpoint to checkpoint. A very useful map that can be brought up with the pause button helped assure me that I left no room unchecked and never was in danger of getting lost. And that’s all fine, people. Not every game has to kick you square in your self-hating ass and tell you what a pathetic bitch you are. The guys at MonsterJail Games were clearly more interested in creating an enjoyable little experience instead of a sadomasochist exercise in futility.
The graphics are straight out of an early 80s arcade and look awesome. I actually laughed out loud when I saw the animation of the cat, which hops around bobbing it’s head and front legs while the hind ones drag behind, as if it’s been paralyzed. There’s also a neat bit where the rooms are a different color every time you re-enter them. Perhaps this was done so you couldn’t get too familiar with the surrounding. If that’s the case, it worked.
I’m a critic so I had to dig around to find a complaint or two, so here they are. First, the music isn’t very good. It’s not annoying, but it doesn’t seem to fit the game. Something more along the lines of Metroid would have been more appropriate. And second, when you find a key you have to answer a trivia question, some of which aren’t really questions at all. And if you select the wrong answer, you die. They’re not really that difficult, which meant the two times I got a question wrong I felt particularly stupid (a giraffe’s tongue is blue? who knew?). These feel incredibly out of place in a game like this. It would be like touchdowns at the Superbowl only counting if the team can then solve a Jumble.
But these complaints are so tiny and petty that I feel dirty just for writing them down. I really did enjoy every single minute I spent playing LaserCat. And it only costs 80 Microsoft Points. Seriously, what are you going to do with that many points? Get a pair of sunglasses for your avatar? Stop being a doofus and buy this game, or else the space frog wins.
I’m not going to be one of those wishy-washy types who says two games are equally as good, so here it is: TIC looks better, sounds better, and feels more like a big-studio game. And LaserCat is the better game, period. It has better play control and feels more like a complete game at a smaller price. Ultimately, when future chapters of TIC are released it might prove to be the better overall experience, but right now the crown firmly belongs to the guys at MonsterJail. LaserCat is one of the very best games on the marketplace, indie or otherwise.
But if that’s not good enough for RedCandy they can fight it out with MonsterJail for my affection. Just give me a minute to find some popcorn and a swimming pool full of mud.
80 Microsoft Points can’t believe they might have otherwise gone towards a pair of denim jeans for my avatar in the making of this review.